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As events unfolded, Amy Scheuneman grew less apprehensive about Bethel Park hosting the University of Pittsburgh’s annual spring game. Though the athletic director experienced one of those days at the office—where she had to reschedule rained out baseball and softball games while coordinating cheerleading tryouts together with the Blue and Gold game—she duly noted the excitement and thrill in the chilly autumn-like air.
“Everybody is getting along and having a good time,” Scheuneman said. “We’re happy with this.”
The young Pitt fans, many decked in Panthers’ apparel, were quite pleased with the activities, which culminated in the scrimmage in Bethel’s state-of-the-art stadium. In addition to face painting, music, inflatibles and games, the event featured a informal meet-and-greet with the players as well as a clinic.
The one-on-one with their favorite players drew the praise of John Kowalo, 12, of Canonsburg and Connor Harcarik, 9, of Bethel Park.
Though he plays center, Kowalo said that his favorite player was junior wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon from Clairton and that he was “very excited” about Pitt being in the neighborhood. From the clinic, he added, “I hope to learn about technique.”
Technique and then some were Harcarik’s goals. He plays running back and quarterback in the Bethel Park Junior Football Association. Some day he envisions playing for the varsity Hawks and emulating sophomore signal caller Levi Metheny. Hence, he was quite attentive to the directives of the Pitt players during the free clinic.
“I hope to play better football and have more fun,” Harcarik said. “It’s good for Pitt to be here because they bring a lot of excitement and we get to play around and have fun.”
Parker Cardamone, 9, favored challenging opponents such as Jason Muench, a fourth grader at Washington Elementary School, and Brock Ferguson, 8, of Bethel Park, at the miniature racetrack than chasing down the Pitt players in a mock, scrimmage on BP’s upper turf fields.
A guard in the BP Jr. Football Association, Cardamone said, “I liked the race cars the best. “But,” he added, “I love football. Probably making a catch and taking it to the end zone is the best part.”
Cardamone said J.P. Holtz from Shaler was the best and that his favorite team is Pitt next to Florida. He admitted though that if he couldn’t be a football player when he grows up, then he would entertain the thought of being a NASCAR driver. “That would be cool. I liked racing the cars.”
Although they were disappointed Pitt did not choice Upper St. Clair as the site for its spring game, two of that school’s football coaches ventured into enemy territory to attend the festivities with their children.
“This whole thing is fantastic. Look at all these kids,” they said pointing to the crowd. “They are having a blast. It’s a good way to get people interested in Pitt football.”
Because the Panthers will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time this fall, there is renewed interest in Pitt football. Yet, even the most diehard fan, knows the ACC is a challenge for the up-and-coming Panthers.
“Did you see their schedule?” said Larry Ferguson he said referring to Miami, Notre Dame, Florida State, Virginia Tech. “It’s going to be tough.”
But it wasn’t difficult to see how much fun the Blue and Gold game created and what an attraction Pitt football is for families.
While his son, Brock was not keen on chatting with reporters, Mr. Ferguson, who works for UPMC, said that Pitt holding its spring game at Bethel Park this year was a positive. “It’s great for the kids to see the players up close and in action. I go to Steelers games and Pitt games are a better atmosphere.”
Hank and Judy Freedy agreed. They once sat in these same stands and watched their sons, Tucker and Joe, play football for the Hawks. This year, they attended the Blue and Gold game with Tucker, their grandson, Andrew, 8, and his friend, J.P. Walters, 8.
While the young boys hope to play for rival Mt. Lebanon some day, they enjoyed the clinic, especially the tackling dummy drills.
“It’s great for them,” said Tucker. “Pitt did everything right and they enjoyed themselves so much.
“We’ve gone to the game before when it was at Heinz Field. But this was a lot easier to get to,” said Hank, whose home is less than a mile away from the stadium.
“I’m not sure how well they will fare but I think they’ll be good.”
Levi Metheny concurred. The soon-to-be sophomore quarterback at BPHS said, “I think they will be good. And spoken like a good coach’s son—his father, Jeff, directs the Hawks—Metheny added, “They have good coaches.”
And, all that added up to success for Bethel Park. High school principal Jeb Jasante, who earned his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh after a stellar football career at California University of Pennsylvania, was thrilled with how the event was executed.
“This was a great success. We had huge turnout,” he said pointing to the packed stands. “We couldn’t have asked for anything more. This was great for Pitt and great for Bethel Park, the athletes, the students and the community.”